France Protests Against Pension Reform Escalate To Storm BlackRock Offices

Demonstrators stormed BlackRock’s Paris office on Thursday, carrying their protest against the government’s pension reforms to the world’s largest money manager.

Protesters were seen waving red flares and firing smoke bombs as they entered the Le Centorial office building, which is located near the Opéra Garnier opera theater. For about 10 minutes, about 100 protesters, including officials from different trade organizations, chanted anti-reform chants on the bottom level of the building. 

“The meaning of this action is quite simple. We went to the headquarters of BlackRock to tell them: the money of workers, for our pensions, they are taking it,” Jerome Schmitt, spokesman for French union SUD, told CNN affiliate BFM-TV.

Aside from storming the investment firm’s offices, French protestors also disrupted vehicle traffic at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, blocking a road leading to Terminal 1 and entered the terminal building. Rat catchers have also started hurling the cadavers of rodents at City Hall.

During the March 23 protests, at least 80 individuals were arrested and 123 police officers were hurt, with rioters igniting fires, hurling smoke bombs, and damaging property. The world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock, has taken no involvement in the government’s pension changes.

Why are they protesting?

The nationwide protests have reached its 11th day as workers demonstrate against the French government’s intention to raise the retirement age for most workers from 62 to 64, thereby affecting their pension. Last month, the government invoked special constitutional powers to force the contentious legislation through parliament without a vote.

While the two years added to the retirement age angers French workers, it still makes the country below the average in Europe and many other developed economies, where the age at which full pension benefits apply is 65 and is gradually approaching 67.

France’s state pensions are likewise more generous than elsewhere. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the country’s spending on public pensions is about 14% of GDP in 2018, which is higher than in most other countries.

But in contrast to many other European nations where pensions are at least partially funded by private pension funds, France has a system in which contributions from those who are still working directly fund the pensions of those who are already retired.

The French government has defended the pension reform, which includes other adjustments, as vital for the pension system to remain solvent. Current employees’ taxes pay for retiree benefits, and as individuals live longer lives and more baby boomers retire, the system will eventually fall insolvent.

When the plan was announced in January, the government stated that the modifications were required to avoid a predicted 13.5 billion euro ($14.7 billion) gap in the pension system by 2030.

Ten rounds of statewide strikes and protests since January have failed to sway French President Emmanuel Macron, and there was little indication from his government that Thursday’s 11th round of turmoil would change his mind.

Despite the protests, Macron’s government has refused to back down. It forced the legislation through the French National Assembly last week, bypassing a vote, thanks to a constitutional provision that allows the government to do so.

Trade union leaders and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s talks broke down fast on Wednesday, with no breakthrough, setting the stage for demonstrators to return to the streets.

Crowds marched in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, Bordeaux in the southwest, Lyon in the southeast, and other cities behind union flags and placards. French authorities had mobilized 12,000 police officers around the country, including 5,000 in Paris, ahead of the strike.

Some reports say the police has employed tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Despite the criticism on the law, the reform is still set to be implemented by the end of the year.

Information for this briefing was found via CTV News, CNN, Reuters, and the sources mentioned. The author has no securities or affiliations related to the organizations discussed. Not a recommendation to buy or sell. Always do additional research and consult a professional before purchasing a security. The author holds no licenses.

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